Sunday, September 25, 2016

On Loneliness

           As I walk past the condos down the street from my apartment building, the door of the garage swings open and a car noses its way out, blocking the sidewalk. I stop before it can hit me. The driver slowly edges out then stops, right in front of me. There is no way to walk around it without walking into the street. If the window was down I could reach in and stroke her cheek. I think about tapping on the glass as she looks frantically around for traffic, but there isn’t another car on the road, not another person aside from me, standing there invisible, waiting for her to peel out into the street.


Further down the block a cardboard box sits by the side of the curb. It’s filled with empty cans and cups and wadded fast food wrappers and a bicycle helmet and a sodden textbook titled A Clinical Guide to Contraception. Bits of trash line the curb up and down the street. We dispose of the things we no longer need, without thought or care. It’s a beautiful, Zen way to live: you open your hand and the plastic Starbucks cup falls wherever it may, and you walk on, the moment forgotten. The cup has disappeared.


I send a text to a friend to say hello and days later they reply. I get the message: I am not important. Not important enough for them to type the letters h and i, not important enough for them to even just click on a smiley face, which I wouldn’t be able to see anyways on my antiquated phone. Without constantly spending money on new technology, we are punished with further alienation, pushed farther to the outskirts of society. It’s a scam that we all willingly –eagerly- participate in. Or is it? I may be sending you a winky smiley face but you may not be able to see it.


I don’t mind being alone, in fact many times I prefer it. I keep myself good company for the most part, and have many interests which lend themselves to solitary enjoyment. Besides, when people are around there’s always the pressure to pay attention to them, to be present and not just drift off into one’s own thoughts. Maybe it's just a quantity issue; when I spend too much time on my own, it becomes painful, and that pain is hard to deal with after a while. And when I’m in pain, it becomes harder to connect, and I find myself withdrawing so that no one can see that I’m in pain. I don’t want to seem desperate or needy, I don’t want to have to beg for attention, for affection. But when I close up the need grows stronger and the pain gets sharper. And I start to wonder what’s wrong with me, why I get so upset when there are millions of other people who are alone and seemingly fine with it. Maybe they’re just not willing or able to talk about it, maybe they’re not even aware at how lonely they really are. Maybe they’re in denial, or self-medicating, or losing themselves in work or their various obsessions. Maybe they’ve just found better ways of coping with their loneliness than I have. Maybe most people just reach out to someone when they get like this, or maybe they’re sitting there, huddling in the glow of their screens, each one of them waiting for a text that never comes.


People like me aren’t supposed to be this lonely. Loneliness is for angsty teenagers and old people. People with horrible disfigurements who are afraid to go out in public for fear of ridicule. Those people are allowed to feel lonely, it’s understandable. But I have no excuses. I am a normal, average person, with plenty of resources and of reasonable intelligence, who can hold a conversation on a variety of subjects. I see plenty of awful, fucked up, unattractive people who are somehow in relationships; not that I assume they’re happy or fulfilled, but it still makes me feel that something is deeply, profoundly wrong with me. It’s a feeling I know I need to change but which I find increasingly difficult to shake as I get older.


I know I should just get a pet but I’m still not over my cat’s death, even though it’s been over a year. Ivan was 16, and kept me company from my twenties into my forties, accompanied me across thousands of miles and through the major loves of my life. The thought of trying to replace him is still too much. I fear that whatever I try to fill that cat-shaped hole with will just fall into the void and be lost.


Someone posts an anniversary on social media; “Thanks to my loving spouse for being my partner in crime for all these years, I am so lucky to have you in my life.” I know such announcements gloss over the fact that relationships are complicated, difficult things, and that sometimes a cheery smile is covering up years of accumulated pain. Am I jealous? Of course I’m fucking jealous. I know it’s not all hears and flowers, that people use their Facebook feeds to showcase the good things in their lives. It’s probably good that they’re focusing on the positive things. No one really wants to read about pain and misery all the time, whether it’s the big, difficult pain of losing a loved one, or the ordinary, everyday pain of feeling invisible. No one really wants to read about a cardboard box filled with crud sitting on the curb. Why should they?
But the box is still there and I can’t look away and I don’t know what else to do but talk about it, even though I know no one is listening.


I don’t mean to sound whiny or wracked with self pity, even though I am. I’m just struggling with this, the way I have on and off since I was a teenager. The feeling of abandonment is something I’ve always wrestled with. I could go into the reasons for this –God knows I”ve been through enough therapy to have a pretty good idea of why I’m like this, even if I still haven’t quite figured out what to do when it threatens to overwhelm me, when all that toxic sludge rises up to choke me.


The problem isn’t even loneliness, really. There’s a comfort in feeling lonely, a bittersweet melancholy like the first days of autumn, or walking around on a quiet night. Loneliness can be peaceful, it can be productive. No, this is different. Maybe it’s not loneliness at all but a form of anxiety; the pain is almost physical, I can feel its pressure in my chest, in my head. There’s an element of helplessness as well as hopelessness to it. Maybe better not to call it loneliness, maybe it’s better to call it what it really is, call it despair.


Aside from the happy celebratory posts, social media is a seemingly endless stream of political rants, one diatribe after another, blending together into one digital river of disgust about things that none of us can really do much about aside from what we do in our daily lives, which never seems like enough to shift the big picture. Helpless and hopeless in the face of all this suffering.
“I feel so fortunate to have married the love of my life, to be spending all these years with my best friend…”
I try to remember the last time I held hands with someone.
The sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day, the leaves are starting to change. I feel like lying down on the sidewalk and not getting up.


I know, I know; be grateful for all the things you possess, all these gifts. I am lucky to have been given so much, lucky to be alive.
I know. Be grateful.
I’m not.


And until I can appreciate all these gifts, to see every day, every moment of life as a miracle; maybe until I can love this life I’ve got instead of wanting a different one, maybe I deserve to suffer. Maybe despair is just another word for lack of gratitude.


I’d like to end on a note of hope but right now I have none. I should try anyways, for the sake of the reader, if not for myself.
And there’s a glimmer of hope: caring about the reader, about someone other than myself, even if I never see them, even if I don’t really know they’re there. There’s the first step towards connection, toward faith of some kind. What can I give of myself to this person who may or may not exist? Maybe there’s something in the bottom of that cardboard box worth rummaging through the garbage for?
I don’t know. Look at that blue sky. Look at those clouds.

            I don’t know.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Burning Web

Sometimes sparks erupt from the overhead wires.
Sometimes it rains baby spiders. Sometimes you feel like
you'll die if you're touched, or if you're not touched.
Sometimes you stretch your arms to embrace the world
and they are instantly covered with all those baby spiders.

Sometimes the clouds cloak the meteor shower.
Sometimes the sparks seem more frightening
than magical. Sometimes I hide for days
in my apartment, listening. Sometimes all it takes
is one badly wired hot tub to burn down an entire forest.

Sometimes the train leaps the tracks
Sometimes the underground fires
smolder for years
Sometimes the eggs hatch
and the atmosphere crawls
Sometimes a strand of spider silk acts
as a fuse

Sometimes it feels like your skin is slipping off,
sometimes it feels like your eyeballs are being
pinched. Sometimes you swallow torch
after torch after torch. Sometimes we throw
match after match after match at the river
but it stubbornly refuses to catch fire.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Mountain of Hubcaps

Burned the cobs
Burned the sponges
Burned the pile of greasy
baseball caps.

Burned the plaster casts
Burned the dice
Burned the rolled-up carpet
Burned the drawer full of fast food
drive-thru receipts

Burned the book of mirrors
Burned the crystal palace
Burned the garden of hair
Burned the mountain of hubcaps

We burned it all
Burned it all before it had the chance
to burn us first

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Everyday Hustler

There were rivers of liquid methane
carving out canyons on a moon of Saturn.

There was a reservoir beneath the city.
We took a gondola tour. I kept calling it a sewer
and the guide kept correcting me.

There were fleas trained to scale tiny ladders,
to ride the backs of crickets, to form letters and words
and lines of verse across the arm of the beloved.

There were 99 names for Allah
one of them was The Expediter
another was The Delayer

There was a jellyfish smaller than a pinky nail
That had discovered the secret to eternal life

There was a man wearing a t-shirt that read
"Everyday Hustler." One day someone stabbed him
and the knife slid between his ribs and stood there,
perfectly still, as the world spun around it. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


I heard tell
I heard tell of nothing
All a little fuzzy

It won't be us
It won't be us moving of our own
volition, sometimes
Sometimes you just want
to be forced

There were pangs
I heard about them
clenched, doubled over,
I heard about them

There were paw prints
in the warm tar
There were scratches
from the brambles
on my arm

It won't be us
moving of our own
volition, released on our own
recognizance, we will have
to be dragged

You won't hear about
what happened
what happened to us
You won't be around
to hear

Thursday, August 25, 2016


I reached for a stone to throw
into the stagnant pond
to leave a dark hole in the skin
of green-brown crud.  I knew the wound
would almost instantly seal over.
I knew that throwing the rock
would make a satisfying plunk
but would ultimately change nothing.
I knew that it would take more than a stone
to get the water flowing,
to make this place a home for creatures
other than midges and mosquitoes.
I threw it anyways.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


We sprawled out on the sofa bed in the living room
of your stepfather's house
watched Requiem for a Dream I wanted to touch
your creamy skin but you were frozen
and I knew that if we touched that I would freeze too.
You'd loved morphine but not for a long time
and a little ways above us perched on the top of the hill
was the pagoda that looked out over the city
built over a hundred years earlier
as part of a resort that never materialized.
In its topmost story, an 18th century bell
brought to Pennsylvania from a Japanese temple.
Though my grandparents had lived just across town,
they'd only taken us to the pagoda once,
climbed up the seven stories to the top, I remember there being
a little local history museum inside.
In your backyard your stepfather had installed
a koi pond. You couldn't forgive him for the things he did
years ago but you had nowhere else to go
and just as I reached across the expanse to touch
your tattooed wrist your youngest started crying upstairs
The next day your stepfather drove me home, we sat
in the backseat for the hour drive and didn't touch once.
Years later of course other things happened
between us, and all those things piled up
roof upon roof upon roof of the pagoda
towering over the city, a decorative exotic building
that doesn't really belong there, a building
visible for miles that everyone has affection for
but no one really knows what to do with.